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Department of Special Collections 


The Pachuco Era 


u c: L A 

U N 1 V L It S 11 Y k L S L A K C: 1 1 LIBRARY 
DepartDiiiil of Spccicil (Jolhuiions 


The Pachuco Era 

Catalog of an exhibit 
University Research Library 
September- December 1990 



Department of Special Collections 

University Research Library 

Utiiversity of California, 

Los Angeles, 1990 

Copyright © September 1990 
by the Regents of the University of California 



Unique material for the study of Chicano history and Chicano art history came to the 
UCLA Library at least as early as the 1930s, when it received from Miss Lucy Starr, sister 
of University of Chicago historian Frederick Starr, a gift of prints by the Mexican artist 
Jose Guadalupe Posada. The work of this artist — particularly his playful calavem [skull] 
imagery — was one influence on Chicano artists as they sought to create an art free of 
European and Anglo-American influence to express a unique heritage. Material relevant 
to the theme of this exhibit came to the library in 1945, when Alice McGrath turned over 
records of the Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee to Robert Vosper, then head, Acquisi- 
tions Department. Carey McWilliams gave the library his collection of material on topics 
of interest in the history of Mexicans and Mexican Americans in California. The collections 
have been used continually ever since. Luis Valdez has noted that reading a battered copy 
of Guy Endore's The Sleepy Lagoon Mystery set in motion his thoughts about what became 
his play Zoot Suit. The department also has the papers of Guy Endore. The UCLA Oral 
History Program, administered by this department, has further documented this period in 
interviews with Endore, McGrath, McWilliams, and others. 

Material is regularly added in support of research in this period and all periods of 
Chicano history. I am pleased to announce the acquisition, on the occasion of this exhibit, 
of a print of the color photograph, Clavo, by Los Angeles Chicano artist John M. Valadez. 
The department is privileged to mount The Pachiico Era in conjunction with Chicano Art: 
Resistance and Afjinnation (CARA), 1965-1985. 

David S. Zeidberg, Head 
Department of Special Collections 
University Research Library 
University of California, Los Angeles 



The impetus for this exhibit came from having seen the material used for so many years, 
but never actually to have been showcased. A class given by Visiting Professor Victor 
Alejandro Sorell confirmed the interest in relating Special Collections material to what 
promised to be a distinguished Wight Gallery exhibit, Chicano Art: Resistance and 
Affirmation (CARA), 1965-1985. 

I thank those who have given permission to include unique material in the exhibit and 
catalog: Alice McGrath, John Valadez, and Luis Valdez. Jose Montoya has given permis- 
sion to use his phrase "those times of the forties and early fifties" in conjunction with 
the exhibit. Works from CARA reproduced in this catalog are by Juan R. Fuentes and 
Jose Galvez. 

I would like to thank Professor Sorell. I especially thank those persons at the Wight 
Gallery who have created the CARA exhibit. They have given of their time and assisted 
with ideas and details of this exhibit and have reviewed the catalog. Those persons are: 
Edith A. Tonelli, director; Elizabeth Shepherd, curator; and Holly Barnet Sanchez and 
Marcos Sanchez-Tranquilino, CARA project coordinators. Any errors remain my own. 

James Davis and Lilace Hatayama have advised in all details of the exhibit. Simon 
Elliott arranged for reproductions for the catalog. Steve Kunishima and Ellen Watanabe 
printed the signs and posters. Paul G. Naiditch assisted in the editing and publication of 
the catalog. Judy Hale and Christopher Coniglio in UCLA Publication Services produced 
the catalog. 

The department thanks UCLA Chancellor Charles E. Young for his continued support 
of its publications. 

I would like to dedicate the work on this exhibit and the catalog to Onofre di Stefano, 
whose interest in these topics has long spurred my own. 




The mission statement o{ Chicano Art: Resistance and Affirmation (CARA), 1965-1985 

Chicano art is the modern, ongoing expression of the long-term cultural, economic and 
political struggle of the Mexicano People within the United States. It is an affirmation of 
the complex identity and vitality of the Chicano People. Chicano art arises from and is 
shaped by our experience in the Americas. 

The Pachuco Era focuses primarily on situations and events beginning in the late 1930s 
and culminating in the early 1940s, but with continuity and extension into the present. 
The exhibit relates Chicano artists' concerns and even inspiration to Chicano social history 
and the literature and art of el Movimiento, the Chicano movement. Examples of CARA 
themes pertinent to this exhibit are: 


Works of art dealing with issues of resistance to immigration policy, the Vietnam War, 
police relations, voters' rights, etc. 


Most Chicano art was created in and about the urban barrios or neighborhoods. Portraits 
of barrio residents and stylized "types" became important subject matter. Variations on the 
character of the pachuco in the familiar "zoot suit," a social prototype of Chicano resistance, 
were documented and transformed by artists, writers, and performers. This section is devoted 
to a presentation and examination of this imagery. 

These and other themes are fully developed in publications meshed with CARA. Terms 
alluded to — or given brief definitions — in The Pachuco Era are fully defined and given 
full context in CARA publications. The Pachuco Era gives brief contexts for further study 
through a display of material difficult to obtain or unique to the UCLA Library. 



^_^ J ' I I I 

_ I I I I I I 

I ' msniii im 

Los Angeles Daily News photograph. 1942. A report to a 1942 Los Angeles Grand Jury 
implied that Mexicans were like "wildcats." This supported the assumption that if a 
pachuco were detained, it would be "useless to turn him loose without having served a 
sentence." The wildcat "must be caged to be kept in captivity." This photograph shows 
one technique of labeling the pachucos as "hoodlums." The bars of a jail imply guilt. 
Actually, the pachucos show a sense of style in their resistant stance. 



During this period the Andrews Sisters 
recorded "Zoot Suit," with its jitterbug 
rhymes: reet pleat, stuff cuff, and drape 
shape. From the beginning the zoot suit 
fashion was reported negatively. In 1942 
Newsweek wrote that Harlem was the 
"breeding ground" where "the disease ap- 
peared." Young Mexican Americans 
adopted the style, which they referred to 
as being "draped out." They maintained 
the style longer than did others. They 
added distinctive speech, body movement, 
and body adornment. These young persons 
were known as pachucos, the style having 
originated in El Paso, which is called 
Chuco in the patois they used. 

"Sleepy Lagoon" was another popular 
song of this big band era and was recorded 
by Harry James, among others. A rippling 
piano and a gliding trumpet suggest a boat 
on dreamy waters. Violins add the 
romance of a motion picture score. The 
reality for young Mexican Americans, who 
in this period suffered discrimination even 
in recreation, was a swimming hole nick- 
named Sleepy Lagoon in an abandoned 
gravel pit in Montebello. 

A death at Sleepy Lagoon in 1942 put 
the Mexican American community on trial. 
Riots the next year put the community 
under attack. Because the pachucos main- 
tained their style in the face of disapproval 
from both the dominant society and their 
Mexican parents, they have been seen as 
the first Chicanos. The history and imagery 
of the pachuco era, a time of social resis- 
tance, were significant elements Chicanos 
recovered to identify, develop, and 
celebrate their heritage. 


Carey McWilliams wrote that "Los An- 
geles has not grown; it has been conjured 
into existence." This was done largely 
through booster activities of the Los An- 
geles Chamber of Qjmmerce, founded in 
1888. La Fiesta de Los Angeles was first 
presented in 1894. The program for 1895 
announced the theme: "the achievements 
of the Spanish pioneers, ... the striking 
customs and life of the strange races which 
they a)nquered, to be contrasted with the 
march of American civilization." The word 
"Mexican," which by this time had negative 
connotations such as "untrustworthy" or 
even "criminally-oriented," is suppre.s.sed. 
"Pioneers" is a concept with which Anglo- 
Americans could identify, subtly tied to the 
latter part of the quotation, which restates 
Manifest Destiny, the philosophy which 
had led to the war with Mexico in 1846. 

Among the projected floats was "An 
Aztec Sacrifice." Although such a float was 
probably not built, its description provides 
an example of how a negative stereotype 
of Mexicans had taken hold in the Anglo- 
American imagination. 

For the 150th birthday fiesta in 1931, 
"Mexican" was still avoided. Events were 
"Spanish barbecues" and "gay Spanish fan- 
dangos." In this Depression year, alien 
workers were seen as threats to employ- 
ment. There was a national deportation 
effort. Those most affected were 
Mexicans. A Los Angeles Chamber of 
Commerce memo shows that even 
Mexican American citizens were en- 
couraged to leave. Newspapers stressed 
violence in the Mexican community, per- 
haps to gain sympathy for repatriation and 
deportation policies. 


Artist unknown. An Aztec Sacrifice. Illustration from La Fiesta de Los Angeles program 
for 1895. Nineteen floats were to represent themes in the history of the Spanish conquest 
and of the west: Birth of the Inca, Siege of Mexico, The Missions, Old Spanish Life, and 
Sutter's Mill, for example. From the lengthy description of An Aztec Sacrifice: "Nothing 
could be more dreadful than the extent to which human sacrifice entered into the religious 
observances of the Aztecs before their conquest by the Spanish pioneers." 




The zoot suit style consisted of llnger- 
tip-lenglh, wide-lapel coats and draped 
trousers that ballooned at the knees and 
narrowed tightly at the ankles. Cab Cal- 
loway called the haLs (usually pork-pie) worn 
with zoot suits "righteous sky bonnets." 

The pachucos' distinct speech derived 
from Cald, the argot of Spanish gypsies, 
believed to have been brought to Mexico 
by bullfighters. The border city of El Paso, 
known as Chuco, or Pachuco, gave its 
name to both the argot and the group of 
persons speaking it. Young men hitching 
rides on the railroads during the Depres- 
sion brought the style to Los Angeles. 

Pachuco mixes Mexican slang. New 
Mexican Spanish (which did not change, as 
did continental Spanish), words borrowed 
from the Aztec Nahuatl, English words 
Hispanicized, and Spanish words Anglicized. 
Pachuco is rich in words of emphasis: simdn 
(yes; made by extending si), ese (man), nel 
(no), chak (no, with emphasis). Some ex- 
pressions are unique to pachuco: orale (right 
on). Hay te watcho Hispanicizcs the English 
I'll be seeing you, catch you later. 

The pachucos had distinctive body 
adornment (crosses with rays tattooed be- 
tween thumb and forefinger, for example) 
and body movement. In "El Paso del 
Norte" John Rechy described their style 
of movement: "They walked cool, long 
graceful bad strides, rhythmic as hell, 
hands deep into pockets, shoulders 
hunched." He adds: "Much heart." This 
translates the concept of corazon or cora. 
It is one of many words of binding Mexican 
American social mores, such as carnal 
(brother), or camalismo (brotherhood). 

The press reported ihe zool suit style as 
"comical." Young men wore their grena 
(hair) in a ducktail. Newspapers called this 
the "Argentine Dovetail" and found it "ap- 
propriately funny" for the pachuco style. 

Beginning in June and July of 1942, 
newspapers stressed violence in Mexican 
American neighborhoods. The pachuco 
style was termed "grotesque." In the next 
few years newspaper accounts labeled 
youth groups gangs and sensationalized 
their actions: "young hoodlums smoke 
'reefers,' tattoo girls, and plot robberies." 

Pachucos were arrested on suspicion 
only, from hearsay evidence. Charges 
might later be dropped, but this was not 
reported. Arrests remained on their 
records. They were often beaten by the 
police. If relatives came to inquire, they 
were detained and questioned. The 
pachuco style was proof of guilt and sen- 
tences were meted out accordingly: 
"Youths get hair cut to avoid jail term." 


In August of 1942 the unconscious body 
of Jose Dfaz, twenty-two, was found near 
Sleepy Lagoon. He died before regaining 
consciousness. The circumstances around 
his death have never been determined. 
Henry Leyvas, nineteen, had been beaten 
up and when he and some of his friends 
later crashed a nearby party, they were 
accused of having murdered Diaz. 

Twenty-four young men, including 
Leyvas, were indicted on conspiracy to 
commit murder. Several testified that they 
had been beaten by the police in attempts 
to obtain confessions. The lawyer for 
Leyvas witnessed "his bruised face, bleed- 
ing mouth, [and] saw him vomit from blows 


Los Angeles Daily News photograph. 1942. Harsh photographs of the Sleepy Lagoon 
defendants taken under jail circumstances contributed to the effect of their being guilty 
before the trial. Henry Leyvas's smiling face transcends the circumstances of this portrait. 
A letter to Alice McGrath shows his later doubt: "I had rosy expectations ... [but] it seems 
like the whole world just folded up on me, and there is nothing I can do about it." 


to Ihc stomach." Two defendants re- 
quested separate trial and were never 
tried. Twenty-two were tried as one. 

Two weeks after the indictment a report 
on Mexican Americans was read to the 
Grand Jury, and would have been known 
to the trial jury. This stated that Mexicans 
are descendants of the Aztecs, who had "a 
total disregard for human life, ... which is 
well known to everyone." Mexicans are 
biologically violent. Americans fight clean 
fights, but Mexicans like to use knives. 
They have a desire "to kill, or at least let 
blood." The research for this report seems 
to have been done in a publication such 
as the La Fiesta de Los Angeles brochure. 
An article in Sensation magazine called the 
defendants "baby gangsters." The writer 
drew attention to their "jet-black hair" and 
"black brows," emphasizing their non- 
western European "foreignness" and gave 
them qualities of motion picture villains. 

At the beginning of the trial, the defen- 
dants were not allowed to cut their hair or 
change clothing. Newspapers called them 
"'gooners," then simply "goons." Tes- 
timony was volatile, not factual. When one 
witness spoke about Leyvas, she said that 
"I saw something in his hand, ... and I think 
it was a knife." 

The prosecution produced none of the 
weapons they charged the defendants with 
having used. Despite the fact that no 
evidence presented put any of the defen- 
dants near Diaz, three were convicted of 
murder in the first degree. Others received 
lesser verdicts. Five were acquitted. 

The Sleepy Lagoon Defense Commit- 
tee, organized to raise money for an ap- 
peal, was chaired by Carey McWilliams. 
Alice Greenfield (later McGrath) was the 
executive secretary. She published a 

mimeographed newsletter. Appeal News, 
to send to the young men in prison. Her 
strategy was to nurture their awareness: 
"It is the most essential thing in your life 
to make a definite effort to have an out- 
standing record." She tapped the force of 
their self-expre.ssion: "To quote your let- 
ters and what you have told me in my visits 
to you is the very best [strategy].... It is 
very much to your benefit to be quoted." 
Ben Margolis argued the brief in the 
appellate court, from ground carefully laid 
during the trial by George Shiblcy, one of 
the defense attorneys. The appeal was suc- 
cessful. October 4, 1944 Alice McGrath 
wired Leyvas: "Decision reversed. Victory. 
Will wire further details when we have 
them. Oh what a beautiful morning." Her 
notes on the activities of the day of the 
release of the young men indicate that 
Leyvas was not given the telegram until a 
week after it was sent. 


During the summer of 1943 there were 
race riots in several large cities of the United 
States. In Detroit in August, thirty-four were 
killed in violence between Whites and 
Blacks. In Los Angeles there had been a 
riot in June, usually called the Zoot Suit 
Riots, which lasted ten days. No one was 
critically injured. 

The riots are more accurately termed 
Servicemen's Riots, since groups of U. S. 
military got into taxis and went into 
Mexican American neighborhoods looking 
for "zoot suiters." They entered homes 
and motion picture houses. They beat up 
young men, stripped them of their zoot 
suits and other clothing, and cut their hair. 
Police stood by, or arrested the pachucos. 




Cabby MtWiLUAMi, 
Ndlieiui CbMrma* 


5/41/ Ctairman 

AUCM Ckeenfieu) 
Ejittmtirt S ternary 


(Paitial List. Otganiutions 

luted (or idcntiBcAtioc) 


Chablotta a. B.\m. 
Ed'ifr. Cil>f. Eigle 

Geitbude Hove BRinor* 
OfgaMntt, Mtxicsn Rtiaiiuti 
Cammilitt, Cbicgo. Iliin.r 

Esv. M. A, Canseco. D.D. 

RevtLs Cavton, 
DiTtcior Si*it CIO 
Minattiw Commitut 

Hon. John M. Coffu 

John Cohbb. Ptet'dtat. 

L^. Ntwj^prt CmiU 


Srmn Arum Ct'l-i 

Phiup M. Connelly. 

Sttj. L^. Imd. V»iea Coanal 

Jo»rH CorrtN 

Dk. Fxank Davis. 
frtfntof. V.C.L^. 

John Wauen Day. Dm*. 
(irtct (UlhtJral. Topttm. Kan 

Alaebt Deutscm. 
Vtlfart BJu^r. P.M. 

Lua DiAZ Flobbs 

Gt»tT*l Maa^itr La Opmioa 


Ut^trt" GmiU '' 

SsTA Haywokth 
Di. Hamy Hoijeb, 

/"rc/cdw U C.L.A. 

John Howard Lawson 

Canaim l£t 

Mom. Vrro Mabcantonio. 

Prop. F. C. Matthiessbn. 
Harrird Uniftriiiy 

Gamiel Navmbo. 
Unor. El Pueblo 

J. David Obozco 

Michael Qlill, 

Ntw y«r> City 

Mrs. ^ill Rocera. Jr. 

Rev. Clayton D. Rl'Uell. 
Ff«pWi IndrprnJenl 
Ctmnh «/ Chf.ii 

Dm. Camilo StaviN 
Herman Shi mun 
Ferdinand C. Suftm. 
Nstiaitsl Sttrtlarj Ssiioiui 
MMtUmt Union 

Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee 


ROOM 302 — 129 WEST 2nd STREET 



MUTUAL 4964 

if Am 

HtiBERT K. Sorrel. 
C»m!trt»(t •/ StMdio Umm$ 

Dalton Trl'MBO 

Orson Welles 

Drawing of a zoot suit by Sleepy Lagoon defendant Manuel Delgado. The letterhead 
shows the diverse communities involved in the appeal, including professors from UCLA. 


These charged symbolic events have 
been made the center ol many creative 
interpretations. The Chilean writer, Fer- 
nando Alegn'a, used the stark facts above, 
in his story published in Mexico, "^A que 
lado de la cortina?" |"On Which Side of 
the Curtain?"). As a young Mexican 
American watches a movie with his date 
in downtown Los Angeles, he realizes that 
the American dream depicted on the 
screen has nothing to do with the life he 
leads. He hears a great roar. It is the 
servicemen out to get the zoot suiters. He 
is hit and blood flows onto his light-colored 
jacket. He is separated from his date by 
the crowd. He is stripped naked, put into 
a paddy wagon, and sent to jail. A red- 
haired sailor takes advantage of a free seat 
and watches the end of the movie. His seat 
is that of the young pachuco. He has dis- 
placed the Mexican American. 


Early interpretations of the pachucos 
stated the sociological facts of the dis- 
crimination which oppressed the pachucos 
and related these facts to Mexican 
Americans in general. Louis Adamic 
founded the journal Common Ground in 
1940 "to invite diversity" and "produce 
unity." Contributors included Langston 
Hughes, Carey McWilliams, and William 
Saroyan. Beatrice Griffith published short 
essays on the pachucos, later gathered with 
sketches (some about the riots) in 
Ameiican Me. In 1943 George I. Sanchez 
published "Pachucos in the Making." He 
delineated the ethnic prejudice of the era: 
in education, separate and inferior schools; 
in religion, separate services; in recreation, 
separate facilities or denial of facilities; in 

employment, denial of work or more 
menial work or work for less wages. 

El Movimiento, the Chicano movement, 
began with the strikes of Cesar Chavez in 
1965. Chicano literature and art supported 
this social action. Luis Valdez wrote aclos 
(short skits) in support of the strikes. 
Chavez and his brother Manuel invented 
the emblem of a black eagle on a red and 
white background to make their cause 
more effective. 

El Movimiento issued planes (manifes- 
tos) in support of political action and 
educational reform. Political platforms in- 
cluded seeking recovery of lands from 
which Mexican Americans were displaced, 
following the 1848 treaty with Mexico. El 
plan de Santa Barbara adopted the self- 
designating "Chicano" — used by pachucos, 
but a word with previously negative con- 
notations — as "the root idea of a new cul- 
tural identity." The Aztec origin of the 
word positively asserts the Chicano 
heritage. The plan again reversed negative 
imagery and supported the barrios and 
colonias — Chicano urban and rural com- 
munitie.s — in that "man is never closer lo 
his true self as when he is close lo his 

Chicano art, then, is not only personal 
statement, but also an alliance: to family, 
to urban youth, workers, farmworkers, and 
protesters. It rejects European sources, is 
politically motivated, and concerned with 
educating a broad community of interests, 
rather than appealing to a select few used 
to mu.seums controlled by the dominant 
majority and the commercial spaces of gal- 
leries. It is a public art and, as often as 
possible, done by or with the community. 
Centros (centers, workshops) such as Self- 
Help Graphics and Art in East Los Angeles 



Punk? Que estas, lucas? 

(Pushes him back) 
You're drunk, esc. Uicn pcdo. 

I'll show you who's bien pedoi 

(RUDY jumps on JOEY 
and they fight) 
HENRY comes running, 
and the others leap in 
to try to stop it. ) 

Controlatela, carnal: You gone crazy? 

Get him away from me, ese. I'll l;ill himi 
I'll kill him: 

(THE BATOS and Bucas take out 
JOEY. HENRY pacifies RUDY 
who bursts out crying. ENRIQUE.*!^ 
are the only ones left) 

(Tn a flush of emotion) 
Cabrones, se araontonaron. They ganged up on me, 
carnal. You left me and they ganged up on me. 
You shouldn't have done it, carnal. Why did you 
have to tell XMiSM everybody not to say nothing? 
I.XMXKXHiiX^BBX What good was it to say I wasn't 
there? I was there. I was at the Sleepy Lagoon. 
Yo tambien tire chingazos con todoa. Why didn't 
you want me involved, carnal. For the jefitos? 
The jefitos lost KM me anyway, KliMK carnal. 
I joiiied tne Marines. I didn't have to join but 
I vjent. Sabes porque? Because they got me, carnal. 
Me chingaron, ece. 
I wont to the pinche show with Bertha, all chingon 
n your Xifil tacuche, ese. 1 uas wearing your y.oot 
suit, tind they <joL me. Twenty sailors. Marines. 
lHM.VXqK)tKKKiiXltKix»£-:Xi:»»>CKJiKX«a They came down from 
behind. I Tr.ey grabbed me by the neck and dragged 
me dov;n t'no stairs, kicking and punching and pulling 
ray grena. They dragged me out into the streets,., 
and all the people watched while they stripped me. 

They stripped me, carnal. Bertha saw them strip me. 
Hijos de la chingada, they stripped me. 

(HEIIRY goes to RUDY and embraces 

him with fierce love and desperation.) 

Pause. ) 

Luis Valdez. Zoot Suit. 1978. Page from typescript (photocopy?). 


are a strong part of el Movimiento. The 
Chicano philosophy led lo the use of art 
visible to the barrios in the form of murals 
or art available widely and inexpensively: 
posters and other graphic art. 

Mexican poet Octavio Paz had been in 
Los Angeles briefly in the pachuco era. 
He began his inlluential work, El laherinto 
de la soledad [The Labyrinth of Solitude J, 
with an essay on the pachucos. He applied 
the then-current existential philosophy to 
this lifestyle. At the beginning of the 
Movimiento Chicano anthropologist Oc- 
tavio Romano asserted that the pachucos 
were the first separatists and termed their 
youthful activities a movement which was 

Poets such as Jose Montoya and Tino 
Villanueva followed — c^r concurred with — 
this interpretation. Villanueva's "Pachuco 
Remembered" begins with a startling call 
to attention — "jEse!" — and then speaks of 
the pachucos' "will-to-be culture" and "es- 
thetics existential." The poet allies himself 
with Romano also in the fact that he makes 
the pachucos the first protesters, resisting 
the criticism of Anglo-American teachers: 
"Speak English damn it!" / "Button up your 
shirt!" / "When did you last get a haircut?" 

In time, the interpretation by Paz was 
seen to be lacking in the perception that 
the pachucos created a culture of their 
own. With tools of new critical theory, 
approaches argue that the elements of the 
pachuco style — language, dress, and 
music — were strategies to resist assimila- 
tion by the dominant society, a resistance 
which was a tenet of Chicanismo, the 
philosophy which developed from the 
Chicano civil rights movement. 

Luis Valdez proceeds from an existential 
reading, but his defining the pachuco as 

"an actor in the streets" and his invitation 
to perform — "put on a zoot suit and play 
the myth" — allies him to more recent ap- 
proaches. In Zoot Suit the dramatist used 
aspects of lives like that of Henry Leyvas 
to reverse with dazzling scenes of his own 
the negative imagery presented by the 
press in the 194()s. Valdez used all the 
elements of the theater — story, scenery, 
costume, music, and dance — to restore the 
style of the pachucos. Songs written by 
Eduardo "Lalo" Guerrero in the 194()s 
were included in both the theater and 
motion picture productions. (Guerrero's 
pachuco songs have been considered 
forerunners of bilingual Chicano poetry.) 
Ignacio Gomez created a striking poster 
(in CARA) illustrating El Pachuco, played 
by Edward James Olmos with authentic 
gestures from the period, as coached by 
Sleepy Lagoon defendant Jose "Chcpe" 
Ruiz. When the actor models his zoot suit 
and says "Watche mi tacuche, ese" — 
"Check out my zoot suit, man" — he is lit 
not by a newsman's stark flash, but by 
the full art of theater lighting. 



Con Safos was an early Chicano journal, 
published in Los Angeles, 1968-197L It 
sought to express "the entire spectrum of 
feelings that are the soul of the barrio." In 
a short fiction, "Passing Time," J. L. 
Navarro's protagonist walks through the 
barrio, notes its low income untidiness, yet, 
after pa.ssing "Juan's store and Oscar's 
store, and then Manuel's store," which he 
finds "dingy looking," the sensations of the 
barrio's "sights and pleasant weather, ... its 
silent pride, ... its genuine wholesomeness" 


confirm his perception that "all the com- 
ponents of this day were just right." 

Con Safos contained glossaries of barrio 
language, which had been neglected since 
the pachuco era, and was recovered as a 
literary code connecting generations of 
Chicanos. The journal took its name from 
an element of the placa (graffiti), which 
can include name or nickname (Lefty, 
Snake, L'il Man), barrio (White Fence, 
VNE — for Varrio Nuevo Estrada), state- 
ment of power (Rifamos — ^we rule), and 
finish with C/S (con safos), meaning, brief- 
ly, don't touch or deface. 

Mexican fine art — that of the muralists, 
for example — influenced Chicano art. 
Popular art was seen to be as important. 
The art of Mexican almanaques (calen- 
dars) restored the image of the Aztec as 
a proud warrior. The calavera (skull) im- 
agery of Jose Guadalupe Posada added 
bite and playfulness. Gilbert (Magu) 
Sanchez Lujan — among many artists in this 
fertile period — wrote in Con Safos of the 
varied barrio roots Chicano art should 
seek: "sculptured ranflas [lowrider cars], 
the calligraphy of wall writings (graffiti), 
the gardens of our abuelos [grandparents] 
... vato loco [crazy dude] portraits ...." 

Con Safos wished to include the "loose- 
ness of the cholo." There is some con- 
tinuity between the pachucos and the vatos 
locos, or cholos. Although cholo can be 
defined neutrally, as an urban youth, it 
more often refers to a gang member. 
When this style is adopted, it is called — 
similar to "draped out" — "choloed out." 

The pachuco style depended on expensive 
and at times tailor-made clothing. Newer 
styles used readily — and continually — avail- 
able items in distinctive combinations. Army 
surplus khakis replaced the zoot suit. In 

turn, khaki (and other color) work pants 
were substituted. An element of the 
pachuco style remained in the cinching 
tight of an oversize waist (instead of 
pleats). A white tee-shirt is worn, or a 
white sleeveless athletic shirt. An overshirt 
similar to a Pendleton plaid might be worn 
or carried folded in a stylized manner. 
Highly polished shoes and a web belt con- 
tinue both the pachuco and military styles. 
After the Chavez strikes, cotton ban- 
danas were worn in wide folds as head- 
bands. "Like today I'm wearing gray 
pants," one vato noted, so he chose a black 
bandana. A 1940s hat might be worn over 
the bandana. Navarro made positive the 
imagery that had made the Sleepy Lagoon 
defendants seem criminal. In his poem "To 
a Dead Lowrider," the protagonist is 
"Chicano all the way": "for a crown he had 
rich / black hair that shimmered with / 
Three Roses." The use of hairnets con- 
tinues the generally sleek and low style. 

In Con Safos there were depictions of 
la vida loca, the crazy life of the vatos 
locos. Navarro dramatized moments when 
the effects of drugs or alcohol, acting on 
suppressed anger, transform the tension or 
bravado of banal situations and exchanges 
into violence, usually vato against vato. 

Methods of turning young men from this 
violence have included art projects com- 
mitted to changing the community and its 
lives. Ghosts of the Barrio, a mural by 
Wayne AJaniz Healy, shows homeboys with 
three of their pride-instilling antecedents: 
Aztec warrior, Spanish conquistador, and 
Mexican revolutionary. Charles "Cat" 
Felix encouraged gang members to turn 
the tough energy of their young years (fif- 
teen to seventeen) into murals at the 
Estrada Courts, where eighty-five were 



John M. Valadez. Clavo. 1978. Color photograph. 




» ; 

t% 9^ 

V— •> 

m >K[^K >TR&&T <mmi IKW MhJW7 VIPL^M<^ KOMH^T 
DUR^^LV&> WILL H&V&ft Vn.1 W<f ! 

nigM — LiK<i>, •)•#»>, fwli b aiknl- 

Juan R. Fuentes. "C/zo/o, L/V(?." 1981. OITsct lithograph. In CARA. 



painted, using images from the placas as 
well as banderols and other visual im- 
agery of tattoos. 

Juan R. Fuentes's lithograph (from a 
San Francisco cenlro. La Raza Graphic 
Center) uses the eye-catching style of a 
concert poster. Its imagery records the 
finne (tough, bonded) cholo presence. The 
title is ambiguous: these young men could 
be musicians, in a "live" appearance; at the 
same time it is a directive to remain alive. 
The work exhorts the vatos to change and 
inscribes its message in a barrio calligraphy. 

Fucntes seeks freedom from an oppres- 
sion that, although identified decades ago, 
has changed little since the pachuco era: 
low income, fragile sense of identity, 
broken homes, life lived in the street, con- 
flict with dominant authority. 

The tension of balancing these factors 
to maintain the control that is the cholo 
front is revealed in the photograph, Clavo, 
by John M. Valadez. The artist, who grew 
up near Estrada Courts, has also used im- 
ages of pachucos — for "the beauty of a 
people we have been told are not beauti- 
ful" — in his realist paintings and pastels. 

Police relations have not changed and 
patterns of injustice still oppress as they 
had in the days of Sleepy Lagoon. To live 
in the barrio invites police scrutiny. 
Habitual offenders are defined by the 
number of arrests, not convictions, thus 
labeling young men early. California in- 
carcerates ten times more juveniles than 
does New York. Eighty per cent of new 
inmates are Black or Chicano. In 
Navarro's "Toonerville," a character af- 
firms his long-suppressed identity under 
the worst of circumstances, police harass- 
ment: "Every time they beat him he cried 
out: I'm a Mexican. I'M A MEXICAN." 


Jose Montoya's poem "El Louie" is an 
elegy for "«« valo de alolle" (a great dude), 
a pachua) of the colonias of central Califor- 
nia in "those times of the forties and early 
fifties." Montoya preserves the rasquachi 
(playful, mocking) qualities of the 
pachucos, in his portrait of Louie and in 
his own lluid drawings (in CARA). Louie 
gave a sense of style to the colonias far 
from "Los" or "E.P.T.": "48 Fleetline, two- 
tone ... tailor-made drapes, el boogie." 
Louie's death was a loss for the "baby 
chukes" who looked up to him. The pt^em 
saves the pachuco spirit for the community. 

Recent interpretations of the pachucos 
have stressed their style's performance 
quality, caught by Montoya when describ- 
ing his character "who dug roles, man, like 
blackie, little Louie." Aspects of this style 
have been carried forward. A photograph 
by Jose Galvez is a reminder that there is 
a backstage with preparation and rehears- 
al. The style put forth must be constructed. 
Gus Frias has written of ironing his tec- 
shirt and slacks; and standing in the mirror 
to practice his looks and his barrio walk 
before his first day at high school. 

The Galvez photograph also expresses 
cainalismo, a bond shared and passed from 
one to another — like the baby chukes 
receiving inspiration from El Louie. Mon- 
toya was baby chuke to the real person 
about whom the poem was structured. 
Montoya the creator and educator is El 
Louie — carnal — to a generation he, 
among many committed Chicano creators 
in the carefully constructed arts and litera- 
ture of el Movimiento, has influenced. The 
knot is tied on the bandana for succeeding 




Barrio - Chicano neighborhood 

Carnal I camalismo - Brother / brother- 
hood, bonding 

Colonia - Rural Chicano community 

Con safes (els) - Don't deface 

Corazon (cora) - Heart 

Chingazos - Blows, fighting 

Firme - Tough, together, bonded 

Greha - Hair 

Hay te watcho - I'll catch you later 

Homeboy I homey I homes - Chicano 
pinto (prisoner) term for neighborhood 

Orale -Yes, right on 

Placas - Tags 

Rasquachi - Earthy, lower class 

Simon, ese - Yes, man 

Tacuche - Zoot suit. 
This is an example of an adaption from N^huatl. 

Vato I vato loco - Dude / crazy dude 

La vida loca - The crazy life 


Barker, George Carpenter. Pachuco: An 
American-Spanish Argot and Its Social 
Functions in Tucson, Arizona. Tucson 
[1958, C1950]. 

Bruce-Novoa. Chicano Poetry: A 
Response to Chaos. Austin, 1982. 

Con Safos. Reflections of Life in the Bar- 
rio. Los Angeles, 1968-1971. 

Frias, Gus. Barrio Warriors: Homeboys of 
Peace. Los Angeles? 1982. 

Griffith, Beatrice. American Me. Boston, 

Hoffman, Abraham. Unwanted Mexican 
Americans in the Great Depression: 
Repatriation Pressures, 1929-1939. Tucson 

McWilliams, Carey. North from Mexico; 
The Spanish-Speaking People of the United 
States. Philadelphia, 1949 [cl948]. 

Mazon, Mauricio. The Zoot-Suit Riots: 
The Psychology of Symbolic Annihilation. 
Austin, 1984. 

Meier, Matt S., and Feliciano Rivera. 
Dictionary of Mexican American History. 
Westport, Conn., 1981. 

Moore, Joan W, et al. Homeboys: Gangs, 
Drugs, and Prison in the Barrios of Los An- 
geles. Philadelphia, 1978. 

Paredes, Raymund. "The Origins of Anti- 
Mexican Sentiment in the United States." 
In: New Directions in Chicano Scholarship. 
Santa Barbara, 1984, cl977. 

Paz, Octavio. El laberinto de la soledad. 
Mexico, 1950 [cl947]. Tr. New York, 1962. 

Plascencia, Luis F. B. "Low Riding in 
the Southwest: ..." In: History, Culture, 
and Society: Chicano Studies in the 1980s. 
Ypsilanti, Mich. [1983] 

Romotsky, Jerry, and Sally R. Romotsky. 
Los Angeles Barrio Calligraphy. Los An- 
geles, 1976. 

Sanchez, Rosaura. Chicano Discourse: 
Socio-historic Perspectives. Rowley, Mass., 

Sanchez-Tranquilino, Marcos. "Mano a 
mano: An Essay on the Representation of 
the Zoot Suit and Its Misrepresentation by 
Octavio Paz." Journal - Tlie Los Angeles 
Institute of Contemporary Art, 46 (1987 

Steiner, Stan, and Luis Valdez. Aztldn: 
An Anthology of Mexican American Litera- 
ture [New York, 1972]. 

Valdez, Luis. Zoot Suit. 1978. Un- 
published. In Special Collections. 

Vigil, James Diego. Barrio Gangs: Street 
Life and Identity in Southern California. 
Austin, 1988. 



Jose Galvez. Untitled (Homeboys). 1983. Black and white photograph. In CAR4 


This Catalog was set in 11 pt. Times Roman using Xerox Ventura Publisher. 

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